Yearning for God, Trying to Love My Neighbor, Making Theatre and Beauty, Building a Life...

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Shame, Support, and a Mormon Playwright

Note: On Thursday, November 5, 2015, I was invited to Skype in and speak to Kylie Nielson Turley’s Mormon Literature class about Mormon Drama. As they had already read my historical overview in Saints on Stage: An Anthology of Mormon Drama, I decided to go more personal. This is what I came up with, followed by a wonderful Q&A session…what a sharp class! This was NOT meant to be a commentary on recent events in the Church, on either side. Correlations between the relationship between the LDS and LGBT communities addressed in the essay are purely coincidental, in regards to the current controversy, and were not intended to be construed as any public statement regarding it.

Farewell to Eden Cast
Me and the 2004 cast of Farewell to Eden

I was at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. in April of 2004 for the national festival for the American College Theatre Festival. It was a time of personal celebration and accomplishment for me, I was so happy to be there, feeling so lucky and blessed—it was the last place I was expecting a figurative gut punch.

Due to the support and mentorship of my playwriting professor James Arrington, my play Farewell to Eden had received its premiere at Utah Valley State College (now Utah Valley University) that previous November, and then had been invited to KCACTF’s regional festival in California. The play really excited a lot of the judges and audiences there, despite being a relatively religious play performing before chiefly secular audiences. Although the production itself didn’t advance to the national festival, I was invited to attend to receive a couple of awards for the writing of the play.

At the National Festival, I attended a workshop with Oskar Eustis, a renowned director, dramaturg, and theatre artist. He was the Artistic Director who commissioned and directed Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize winning play Angels in America in its premier in San Francisco at the Mark Taper Forum. As the subject of his workshop, he discussed the process of developing Angels in America and working with Tony Kushner, which was all very fascinating. I found his thoughts on the interaction between politics and theatre particularly interesting, and was enjoying his dynamic and personable style of speaking. It was also very fun hearing how the development of such a dynamic, famous, and powerful play came about. Eustis’s personal anecdotes about working with Tony Kushner were really insightful into the creative process, not to mention quite funny. Like I said, I was happy to be there. Grateful, even. I felt like I was among like-minded people celebrating an art form I loved, and listening at the feet of those who had accomplished great things within that art form. I was laughing, I was listening, I was enjoying myself.

Then came that gut punch. Obviously, since Eustis was talking about Angels in America, it was a distinct possibility that Mormonism was going to come up. Anyone with any cursory awareness of the two plays knows that it heavily features Mormon characters in conflict with LGBT characters, and draws heavily upon Mormon iconography with much of its symbolism and thematic material. However, despite its often aggressive stance against Mormons, Kushner also allows for some sympathetic treatment of Mormon characters with the character of Hannah, a tough and insightful LDS matriarch within the play. So, as a Mormon playwright myself, I thought that if my faith community came up, it would probably come up in a balanced way, stating some of our general flaws as a community, but also recognizing that not all Mormons are uniform in their beliefs, and that Mormons should be treated with the nuance and respect that any population grouping deserves.

Mormonism did come up, but not with nuance, and not with an eye towards sympathetic characterization.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

True Myths and Spiritual Words: Part Two


Note: This is the second part of an essay I have to write to accompany my thesis play for my MFA program in Dramatic Writing at Arizona State University.  The essay is meant to focus on my journey as a playwright, the development of my work at ASU, as well as the ideas and authors that have influenced my work (so pardon the navel gazing. It was part of the assignment...honest!). Part One can be found at:
Part Two, written more than a year ago before my graduation, is as follows:

At Arizona State University I have created a number of pieces that are now part of my repertoire:
1.     Evening Eucalyptus: A mythical Australian period drama set in the early 20th century, which explores the tortured return of Arthur Stevenson to his homeland of Australia after a traumatic experience in England. 
2 .      The Emperor Wolf:  This post-apocalyptic fairy tale unfolds on a future Earth torn apart by division and war, where mythical creatures have become the new ruling class. In this new world of sphinxes, griffins, fairies and goddesses, none of these are more fearsome than the Emperor Wolf. When Madeline and her blind mother, Ebony, meet the orphaned Shasta, they are pulled into a hero’s journey in which they confront this frightening new order and the Dark Being that has claimed the world. 
3.      Jimmy Stewart Goes to Hollywood: A biographical screenplay (I also adapted it into a stage version) about the actor Jimmy Stewart and his rise in (and personal conflict with) the Golden Age of Hollywood. 
4.      Myths: Four episodes of a spec TV series that explores a modern world being infiltrated by ancient mythology.  It creates a modern world of mystery, whimsy, secrets and intrigue which is both magical and increasingly dangerous, underlined by conspiracy laden politics, action and intrigue.
 5.      A Roof Overhead: A play about the conflict between a Mormon family, the Fieldings, and their atheistic tenant, Sam Forrest, who lives in their basement. 
  6.     Servers: A musical about the life struggles of a group of servers in a Mexican restaurant. 
  7.   Sense and Sensibility: An adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel. 
  8.   Rings of the Tree (screenplay version): Diana Applesong has locked herself into her Victorian mansion, guarding herself from all loss and pain, allowing only the mysterious Colin and Echo to visit her and a small family of servants to assist her. Yet when a group of curious explorers stumble upon her cloistered existence, Diana finds herself struggling to maintain the false world she has created for herself.      
    9. Manifest: A play that adapts several world myths and weaves them together to show the universal life of humankind (most of the leg work on this play was done before my time at ASU).
  10.  Yeshua: A play that follows and expands on the story of Jesus Christ, especially influenced by the Gospel of John. Although ultimately a faith affirming and spiritual version of the Christian story, it also takes some untraditional approaches to the text (including a feminist lens and an unorthodox Mormon worldview).
  11.  A Nest of Women: A comedic play about the relationships between men and women. Three very different, Victorian bachelors—a Byronesque libertine, a gynophobic man who is studying to become a priest, and a scholar—invite a group of feminists to hold their meetings in their home, from which chaos, conflict, and love ensues. Not yet completed.
  12.  Cyrano, From Nowhere: A fantastical, lyrical, and philosophical take on the story of Cyrano that incorporates science fiction, satire, whimsy, unorthodox spirituality, and the old fashioned love of language.
The time and assistance I had at ASU was vital not only in the development of these works, but also in the development in my voice as a Dramatic Writer. It would be unlikely that a number of these plays, teleplays, and screenplays would even exist in any form if it hadn’t been for the experiences and mentorship that I have received here. There were moments of conflict with elements within department in the development of some of these works, but in general I felt that I have had a transformative experience that has sharpened my skills as a writer, challenged my thinking, expanded my horizons, and, ultimately, expanded my soul through a cathartic and enlarging three years as I’ve worked towards my MFA degree.
    Right before I came to ASU, I was a high school drama and creative writing teacher who had already been writing plays for several years. I received my bachelor degree in Theatre Arts from Utah Valley University in 2007. UVU had produced two of my plays on their mainstage (Farewell to Eden and Legends of Sleepy Hollow), as well as my senior capstone project (Rings of the Tree). Before I came to ASU, I wrote over a dozen plays, most of them produced by local groups in Utah like the New Play Project, Art City Playhouse, and the BYU Experimental Theatre Company.  I had also dabbled in screenwriting, adapting some of my plays into screenplay format.
UVU’s production of my first fully produced play Farewell to Eden had been invited to the Kennedy Center’s American College Theatre Festival Region VIII competition, and then I was invited to the national festival in Washington D.C. to receive their National Playwriting Award (Second Place) and a National Selection Team Fellowship. 
I also received awards from the Hale Centre Theatre and UVU, as well as having staged readings of some of my work with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Brigham Young University.  I was also on track to having some of my work published by Zarahemla Books (a respected, but small Mormon publisher), including an anthology of important Mormon plays from various playwrights, for which I served as the compiler and editor.
Although through all of this I felt I had made a lot of progress as a playwright and received some recognition for my work, I was getting to the point where everything seemed to have plateaued. I was married with two kids, teaching at a charter school in Mesa, AZ, on a salary that we were struggling to subsist on. It was true that I had steadily been producing plays in Utah, from a distance in Arizona, but nothing that wasn’t on a level that I had already accomplished, and certainly nothing that was going to put food on our table for an extended period of time. My wife and Anne and were looking for a new direction in our lives, hopefully something that would expand our horizons and give us new opportunities to actually make a comfortable living.
Our life in Mesa had some positive elements because of my naturally meaningful (but emotionally taxing) job as a high school teacher of troubled youth. We lived in an apartment that was too small for our current family condition (having just had our second child) in a tough, impoverished neighborhood. My charter school teacher’s salary (in a state that devalues and underpays educators) was becoming increasingly inadequate, especially considering the difficult circumstances, troubled student body, and lack of resources that was the norm for that particular school. Also, my son, who has sensory processing disorder, had special needs that needed to be addressed, which brought in another level of stress, despite our overwhelming love for him. And the particular Mormon ward (congregation) we lived in had stringent, myopic, and unfriendly leadership that was beginning to affect the happiness of our spiritual life, as we felt our more open and accepting spirituality had little place there.
Life was tense and stagnant. A sense of unease, even desperation, was encroaching upon us. So Anne and I felt like there needed to be a change in our lives, something that opened new doors and new opportunities, so that we wouldn’t be caught in the same stagnant pool all of our lives. We needed progress. We needed hope.
One of the things that came up in our discussions about options was grad school. Although there are no guarantees of getting an academic, university job with an MFA degree, it at least opened up that possibility. It would also lend some credibility to me as a serious writer. If nothing else, it would up my pay grade if I decided to go back to teaching high school. As we pondered and prayed about grad school, it gave us that hope we were looking for.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

RISEN FROM THE DUST: "Freetown" Breathes New Life Into Mormon Cinema

Some time ago there were prognosticators who were crying that Mormon Cinema was dead. After an initially successful run with films like God's Army, The Other Side of Heaven, The Work and the Glory series (especially the second), Brigham City, Saints and Soldiers, The Best Two Years, and Single's Ward, the Mormon audience eventually began to turn away from their initial interest in Mormon filmmakers who were telling Mormon stories. There were many theories as to why this was. Perhaps the novelty wore off. Perhaps the genre got over saturated. Perhaps Mormonism had only so many stories to tell.

I believe another theory is more likely: Mormon audiences are not as stupid as certain filmmakers first assumed.

I once attended a lecture by Richard Dutcher, before he left the Mormon Cinema movement he founded, and the LDS Church he had once championed. Dutcher said something which I found both distressing and illuminating. Dutcher mentioned that he was once talking to another Mormon filmmaker who spoke derogatorily about the Mormon audience. "We could $#!* on a plate and they would eat it," the other filmmaker bragged. Dutcher, rightfully, was disgusted by this declaration, as he was aiming to make high art with his Mormon subject matter, and had a much higher opinion of Church members' discernment at the time. As we saw with Dutcher's films, he was one of Mormon Cinema's best auteurs at the time, and his approach was vastly different than some of his contemporaries in Mormon Cinema.

I kept that comment in mind as I saw Mormon Cinema spiral downward into a crass series of opportunistic movies that seemed to make fun of the culture and religion rather than thoughtfully exploring it; or, on the other hand, earnestly and unabashedly celebrating Mormonism, but without the talent and production value to do such an approach justice. After the first intriguing wave of legitimately good Mormon films, we had this run of pale imitators and cynical money grabbers that ran the once smoothly running vehicle into a wall. This, to me, was the real reason Mormon audiences stopped supporting the fledgling movement of faith based films: they knew when they were being made fun of, they knew when they were being used, they knew when their intelligence was being insulted, they knew when they weren't being taken seriously.

Monday, January 26, 2015


Note: Many thanks to my wife Anne Stewart, whose wide research on this subject bolstered my own efforts. Her assistance with this article was essential and invaluable. It is her beautiful, informed and spiritual example that has been an inspiration to me in seeking Wisdom. This post was originally published 11/15/2013. 

“The [Relief] Society should move according to the ancient Priesthood, hence there should be a select Society separate from all the evils of the world, choice, virtuous and holy— Said he was going to make of this Society a kingdom of priests as in Enoch’s day— as in Paul’s day.”[1]

 The context of this remarkable statement was Joseph Smith speaking at the third meeting of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ female organization Relief Society on March 30, 1842 (although in those days the Relief Society was an autonomous organization that was yet still connected to the Church in its purpose). Joseph Smith was a guest speaker nine times to the Relief Society before it was disbanded right before his death (and reinstated a decade later when Eliza R. Snow urged Brigham Young to give the organization a second chance). The Minutes were recorded in the official Relief Society Minutes Book in Secretary Eliza R. Snow’s own hand,[2] which are now available online from the LDS Church’s official Joseph Smith papers.

The above statement by Joseph Smith is one of the many pieces of evidence that have made me side with faithful Mormon feminists in the recent brouhaha over the issue of women’s ordination in the LDS Church. To me, this shows that Joseph Smith was considering an expanded priesthood role for women, specifically through the mechanism of an autonomous Relief Society. Unfortunately, conflicts with Joseph’s wife Emma and other women over polygamy, his martyrdom in Carthage Jail, and Brigham Young’s retrenchment tendencies when he felt his authority was being challenged, derailed this possibility of female priesthood being enforced in its fullness (although the Mormon temple endowment, especially the Second Anointing, was indeed a partial fulfillment, which I will briefly and respectfully discuss later). 

Women’s roles in the Church are not an issue of “doubt” for me, although there have been times in my life where doubts have certainly raised their unsettling concerns, as they have for most honest inquirers. In the end, however, investigating an expanded role for women in the Church has rather had the opposite effect. I am filled with faith and the Spirit when I’ve prayerfully studied the issue and realize that statements from Joseph Smith (like the one above) and LDS scriptures show that gender issues are not so cut and dry as many Mormons would have us believe, and that revelation still has to come line upon line, precept upon precept to the Latter-day Saints. We are not an “unchanging” Church, but rather an eternally progressing Church that is still striving to live up to its potential of building Zion upon the Earth.   

Rather, doubts have come when I’ve considered the confusing “separate but equal” rhetoric issued to defend the lack of priesthood authority given to women. I feel nothing but alienation, confusion, and darkness when I prayerfully consider such justifications of gender inequalities. Trying to adopt such attitudes in the past have NEVER brought me peace, but rather a repressed unease. I feel farther from our Heavenly Parents when I consider such a constricted view of my mother, my sisters, my friends, my nieces, my in-laws, my aunts, my wife, my daughter, my Heavenly Mother. I not only feel farther from my Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother, but nearly as tragically, I also feel more distant from those beautiful women in my life. Whether I throw women on a pedestal or in a pit, we are not, at that point, on equal footing. That distance is created. 

And I don’t want distance—I long for closeness, friendship, kinship, and fellowship with the women in my life. I have had a long, personal history with women. I have seven sisters. The majority of my friends in Jr. High and High School were female. My mother was a vitally important influence in my life. Many of my historical and literary heroes are women, from Joan of Arc, to Emma Smith, to Charlotte Bronte, to Lorraine Hansberry. My wife is my best friend, and I long for a beautiful, empowering future for my 3 year old daughter. As a general rule, I tend to feel closer and more connection to women than I do with men. Some may not think that I have much “skin in the game,” because I am a privileged, white male in an equal rights struggle. Yet this issue is quite personal to me, and it is spiritually urgent.

Then Leave

NOTE: This post was originally part of my essay "As In Enoch's Day, As In Paul's Day: My Support for Female Ordination." These comments were really a somewhat unrelated tangent in that essay, so I excised them from that piece, but felt that they were still important, so I have moved them here as its own post. That is why the footnotes are numbered as they are. Originally published on  11/15/2013.

I feel distance from certain members of the Church I love when I discover there are those who have a rather un-Christian “if you don’t like it, then leave” attitude. There are some who I have seen similarly say, “Well, go join the Community of Christ, their women have the priesthood” (formerly The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or RLDS, a separate faction of the Mormon tradition). I’m sure the good people of the Community of Christ would welcome folks like me with loving, open arms. Yet, as I currently am, I can’t join them, not in good conscience.
Joseph Smith III, early RLDS President

I’ve studied Community of Christ/RLDS history, I’ve attended their meetings, and I even wrote a play about the early days of the RLDS Church. The lives of Joseph Smith III, Emma Smith, David Hyrum Smith, and other leaders in their movement are familiar to me.  As much as I admire their faith, inclusiveness, progressive intelligence, and commitment, I can’t join their Church because they have rejected Joseph Smith, Jr.’s later teachings from the body of their Church and practice: the sealing power, The King Follett Sermon,  the ordinances of the temple, proxy baptism and ordinances for and in behalf our deceased ancestors, Heavenly Mother. Rather, they have clung to what I consider to be false, Trinitarian ideals. They have downplayed the First Vision and, to a much lesser extent, even the Book of Mormon (for a good insight into the strengths and shortcomings of the current relationship of the Community of Christ to Joseph Smith, see Community of Christ historian Roger Launius’s essay “Is Joseph Smith Relevant to the Community of Christ?” ).

And despite later retroactive admissions made by Community of Christ historians about Joseph Smith’s polygamy (although those concessions are not always made by their general membership, as evidenced by some of the comments I heard in their Sunday School), I can’t accept the Community of Christ’s earlier denials of the importance of Joseph Smith’s history of polygamy in the Mormon narrative, as complicated, contradicting, heartbreaking, and messy as that scenario was.

Joseph claimed that angels taught him the principle of plural sealing, which we call Eternal Marriage. Whether he understood those principles correctly or deployed those principles correctly, to me, is a matter of debate. The evidence of under aged marriages and elements of unrighteous dominion in implementing those principles, tends to make me believe that there were, indeed, some egregious errors made in sincere zeal and human folly, which I’m willing to accept. Yet the whole Mormon narrative falls apart if Joseph was lying concerning that angel with a flaming sword who commanded him to teach about those unpopular principles.[3] And the Community of Christ’s dismissals concerning that widely documented history, I certainly don’t believe, despite the Community of Christ’s other victories and insights. 

Aesthetically and theologically, the Community of Christ have become more Protestant/Evangelical than Mormon and, if I have certain issues with the current LDS status quo, my issues with the Community of Christ would be manifold. I cannot betray my understanding of the work that Joseph Smith accomplished, and the spiritually confirmed truths I believe he taught, even though I do find the Community of Christ’s ordination of women admirable and appealing (not to mention their lack of institutional, racial prejudice that my own LDS community eventually had to come to terms with in 1978).
 It was those who were historically loyal to Joseph Smith, even when he was unpopular and controversial, who earned my trust in the Mormon Narrative, even when I occasionally disagree with certain positions or actions of theirs that I have found in their histories (just as they often disagreed with each other). Yet they were the ones who braved the storms, faced the mobs, took the bullets, were thrown into prison, and were willing to commit to unpopular teachings, sometimes at the risk or ultimate cost of their lives. John Taylor. Jane Manning James. Lorenzo Snow. Wilford Woodruff.  Brigham Young. Eliza R. Snow. Parley Pratt. Zina Huntington.  Helen Mar Kimball. Mary Elizabeth Lightner. David W. Patten. Elijah Abel.  Heber and Vilate Kimball. These are names that have meaning to me because of the sacrifice and faith they employed while others took the easier path.

My great-great-grandfather Alvin Franklin Stewart joined the Church in the 1840s and moved to its headquarters which were then stationed Nauvoo, Illinois. He was one of the body guards that accompanied Joseph Smith down to Carthage Jail, and he guarded over them on the journey there as they slept. Joseph Smith dismissed Alvin and the other guards to go home before Joseph Smith was gunned down by a mob in that jail. Although Joseph Smith had told those with him that he knew those at Carthage were going to kill him, he probably saved my great-great-grandfather’s life from that mob, and my whole family line, by telling Alvin, and the others who had offered him their protection, even at the risk of their own lives, to go home. Alvin viewed Joseph and Hyrum’s bodies after their assassination, perhaps very aware how easily it could have been him sharing those caskets.

 I literally owe my life, my father’s life, my 10 siblings’ lives, my children’s lives, and the lives of our associated ancestors and relatives, to Joseph Smith’s bravery and willing self-sacrifice in facing that mob without the assistance he could have easily commanded. [4] Instead of clinging to what physical protections that were being offered him by guards like my great-great grandfather (not to mention the Nauvoo Legion), Joseph chose to brave the storm with only a few select individuals[5] and saved the lives of his friends.

Alvin Franklin Stewart was also at the meeting where Brigham Young and Sidney Rigdon were vying for the leadership of the Church after Joseph Smith’s martyrdom. Although my great-great-grandfather’s journal (which I’m assuming contained the account) was destroyed in a flood, my family’s oral history says that he claimed that he was one of the individuals who saw the “mantle” of Joseph Smith fall on Brigham Young. For those unaware of that period of Mormon history, that means, if the report is accurate, that he was one of the many people who claimed a vision in which he saw the actual countenance of Joseph Smith come upon Brigham Young, indicating the leadership the Lord wanted the Latter-day Saints to adopt.

Instead of immediately settling into the “promised land” of Utah, my great-grandfather Alvin and great-grandmother Camera Olga Owen Stewart (who were both married by Heber C. Kimball in the Nauvoo Temple), stayed behind in Winter’s Quarters to assist in the transportation of others to Utah.
So when I am confronted with the option of leaving the Church that my forefathers and foremothers sacrificed so much for, and which I owe so much to, even over an issue of conscience, I just can’t bring myself to that possibility. The spiritual witnesses I have experienced in connection to my faith, which are many, have been nothing short of miraculous. So when people on both sides of the divide ask, because of my concerns with gender in the Church, “Why do you even stay then?” I think of the words that Peter gave Jesus when asked, “Will you also go away?” Peter replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of life.” [6]
I have nowhere else to go but this Church. This is where I have found peace, this is where I have found Christ, and this is where I have found a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother who speak to me and listen to me and understand me, despite my imperfections. It is here that I have found Grace beyond my inadequate comprehension. I respect all other sincere faiths, and find much that is good and much that is inspired when I study them, but my beliefs and conscience keep bringing me back here, my Mother Faith. It’s like when Robert Bolt has his protagonist Thomas More say in A Man For All Seasons: “But what matters to me is not whether it’s true or not, but that I believe it to be true, or rather not that I believe it, but that I believe it.”[7]

Thankfully, a number of the current leaders of the Church have proven to be more charitable and welcoming than some of its members. I can’t sufficiently say how very impressed I was with the frankness, the honesty, and the charity in President Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s message for the LDS General Conference this last October. His comments were timely considering much of the persecution I have seen feminists and other intellectuals receive from fellow members of the Church:
One might ask, “If the gospel is so wonderful, why would anyone leave?”

Sometimes we assume it is because they have been offended or lazy or sinful. Actually, it is not that simple. In fact, there is not just one reason that applies to the variety of situations. Some of our dear members struggle for years with the question whether they should separate themselves from the Church.
In this Church that honors personal agency so strongly, that was restored by a young man who asked questions and sought answers, we respect those who honestly search for truth. It may break our hearts when their journey takes them away from the Church we love and the truth we have found, but we honor their right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own conscience, just as we claim that privilege for ourselves…

To those who have separated themselves from the Church, I say, my dear friends, there is yet a place for you here.Come and add your talents, gifts, and energies to ours. We will all become better as a result.
Some might ask, “But what about my doubts?” It’s natural to have questions—the acorn of honest inquiry has often sprouted and matured into a great oak of understanding. There are few members of the Church who, at one time or another, have not wrestled with serious or sensitive questions.[8]

It was satisfying to see the Mormon blogosphere light up in joy after this talk. Scholars, feminists, and other religious misfits finally felt some vindication, recognition, and compassion from their religious leaders.  Despite what may have been said by others, with President Uchtdorf there was none of the old distrust against “intellectuals” nor any dismissiveness against “discordant voices.” Instead of sending supposed “apostates” out into the cold, he validated their concerns. He recognized human imperfection in the leadership (“And, to be perfectly frank,” he said, “there have been times when members or leaders in the Church have simply made mistakes. There may have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles, or doctrine”[9]). He opened his arms to all the supposed black sheep and said, “There is yet a place for you here.”

In his statements, President Uchtdorf completely rejected the cruel and condescending dismissals I’ve seen presented by some members of the Church who do not want to invest the time or mental/spiritual energy required to address the concerns of the questioning or the disaffected, and therefore simply write them off. Instead of taking the shortcut of the cutoff, President Uchtdorf truly believes in Christ’s injunction to leave the 99 and seek after the one. And I’m certain, especially considering the context of what was happening with the Ordain Women movement during last Conference, that the good under-shepherd President Uchtdorf also meant to include the Mormon feminists in his welcoming invitation.


[3] Not only Joseph Smith’s polygamous marriages, but also his polyandrous marriages, as well as the New Testament bestowal from Christ to Peter, “Whatsoever ye shall seal on earth, shall be sealed in heaven,” all make me wonder if we truly understand the sealing power, even today. We strive to defend traditional marriage so vehemently in the Church, yet Joseph seemed to be overthrowing the entire concept (at least as an earthly institution) and replacing it with revelations about the sealing power. How far did this sealing power extend? Is it related item for item to what we consider as marriage, or does it go beyond those boundaries? When Christ says that in Matthew 22:30 that in the resurrection we neither marry, nor are given in marriage, yet then also says in Mark 10:8 that men and women, although “ twain” (separated) yet “shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh,” is he referring to a completely different process than what we call “marriage”? Those are obviously very complicated questions, with no easy answers. To address them adequately in this essay would derail the topic at hand, but it’s a question I may explore further in the future.      
[4] Alvin’s son, my great-grandfather and namesake, Mahonri Alma Stewart was born in Utah in 1861. Thus, if Alvin Franklin Stewart had stayed and died at the hands at the same mob that killed Joseph, yes, I literally would not be here (at least not in my current body and form).
[5] John Taylor, and Willard Richards were with Joseph and Hyrum Smith when they died. Taylor and Richards survived, Taylor just barely with grave wounds, and Willard miraculously (and through a fulfilled prophesy) just got a nick under his ear.
[6] John 6:67-68
[7] P. 91, Vintage Books, New York, 1960
[8] “Come, Join With Us,” October Conference 2013, (accessed October 15, 2013).
[9] Ibid.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Discussing the Renaissance Over at _I'll Drown My Book_

I write on my arts blog about teaching the Renaissance in my Humanities class and one particular student's negative reaction to the movement:

Feel free to let me know your own thoughts, positive or negative, about the Renaissance in the site's comment section!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Raising the Book

NOTE: I just posted this at my new arts blog I'll Drown My Book. I am also posting it here because it explains this site's temporary hiatus for the last several months. But, no worries, we are now up and running again:

In William Shakespeare's The Tempest the protagonist-wizard Prospero gives a memorable and stirring speech. After a long exile on a desert island (where he has mastered his magic, raised a daughter, befriended/enslaved/mistreated a monster and a fairy, and lived a painful, imperfect, turbulent, yet enchanted life), Prospero is about to find the freedom from the island he has so long been drifting on and go back to the outside world.

In the speech, Prospero vividly describes the power his magical art gave him, but then declares his intent to give up that same magic before setting on his way home to Naples:
...But this rough magic
I here abjure, and, when I have required
Some heavenly music, which even now I do,
To work mine end upon their senses that
This airy charm is for, I'll break my staff,
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I'll drown my book.
(Act V, Scene I)

Playing Prospero at Utah Valley University
In my undergrad years at Utah Valley University, I played Prospero in a unique and creative production directed at UVU by Christopher Clark. Taking a cue from Jacobean Theatre, Clark separated the bodies and voices of the characters (I played Prospero's body), making it similar to a human enacted puppet show. Due to this fact, as I played out Prospero's movement every night, I was able to listen to the words I was acting out, rather than focus on reciting them. The above speech stuck with me particularly and even before I had been cast in the play. I had long connected with the role of Prospero, despite some of the character's problematic flaws. So these words stuck out to me at this particular juncture of my life, and when I contemplated what I was going to name this new blog.

William Shakespeare wrote this play at the very end of his life (the general consensus is that either The Tempest or A Winter's Tale was his last play), so many read this speech as the great Bard retiring his playwriting and "breaking the staff" of his enchanted words. So I connected with that idea when I have contemplated the last several months of my life, which led away from my blog writing for a period. I took a sabbatical from online writing until recently for a few reasons: